STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION

RD Leaders Reflect on their Experience at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout

Every night, more than 116,000 people in Australia experience homelessness. Although the most visible experience of homelessness involves sleeping rough on the streets, this only represents 7 per cent of Australia’s homeless population.

Homelessness is about more than being roofless. It also includes living in refuges, in crisis accommodation, or in temporary and insecure housing. It is about not knowing where you will be able to find your next meal, your next shower, or where you can store your belongings. And at this time of year in Canberra, a city that drops below -5 overnight, homelessness can also be about life or death. 

On the 17th June 2021, four RD Consulting leaders – Colin Anstie, Madeline Bonfini, Andrew Baker and Kat Archibald – participated in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout. This initiative gives business and social leaders an opportunity to experience what sleeping rough is like for just one night, raising money and awareness for homelessness in Australia.

The Canberra region’s original fundraising target was $630,000. Meeting this with ease, Vinnies set a new goal of $800,000. By the night of the Sleepout, Canberrans smashed this goal again, raising $971,641, close to 10 per cent of the total fundraising nation-wide. Vinnies then set the new goal of $1 million, which Canberrans have now met again. Of the $9.2 million raised nation-wide so far, RD Consulting has contributed $25,732 – nearly $15,000 more than our original target.

While it was a hard night of concrete and cardboard for our team, as Madeline later reflected on, it was still a comparatively comfortable experience.

‘We were fed dinner, had access to tea, coffee and clean water, were able to wear the expensive warm clothing of our choice, bring expensive sleeping bags, and have pillows of our choice. We also had access to a clean toilet that was close by and safe to walk to in the middle of the night’, she said.

After hearing from homeless Canberrans and community leaders, Madeline got thinking about the people sleeping rough without safe access to these items and facilities.

‘It made me realise how fortunate we are to be able to afford these things that make our ‘rough’ night a comfortable experience,’ she said.  

After the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory has the second highest rate of homelessness in the country. In fact, it was in Canberra where Andrew first witnessed homelessness in his youth. With its icy temperatures and bitter winds, Andrew remembers thinking that Canberra was one of the last places he would wish to be without a roof over his head. After his experience at the Sleepout, he was reminded that ‘homelessness in Canberra does not happen by choice’ and that people living in poverty are not to blame for their own situation.

This was one of the key messages Vinnies hoped participants would take from the experience. Being the result of a myriad of structural problems, homelessness can be caused by poverty, unemployment, and in Canberra’s case, the shortage of affordable housing. It can also be triggered by family breakdowns, mental illnesses, sexual assault, addiction, financial difficulties, gambling, domestic violence, or social isolation.

Colin understands better than most that situations of homelessness can happen easily and to anyone, having run away from home himself at age 14.

‘This has been my chance to give back,’ said Colin.

‘Living in one of the most privileged places on earth, it was an honour to be able to do this.’

When asked about how they found work the next day, our team agreed that without a proper night’s sleep and with little food in their stomachs from the night before, continuing their days as normal was challenging.

Speaking to the multiplying effect of homelessness, Kat touched on some of the routines we all take for granted.

‘Getting through one day of work, or school, hungry and tired was difficult enough. It’s confronting to comprehend doing it day in, day out and the whole maintaining a job or caring for a family,’ she said. 

For our team, what the Sleepout made vivid is that home is more than four walls and a roof. It is the foundation for safety and security.

What else you can you do to help people facing homelessness:

    • A simple conversation can go a long way when so many people walk past without even providing any acknowledgement. Find out what they like to eat or drink, and offer to purchase their breakfast/lunch/dinner or a snack – or cans of dog food if they have a loyal companion.
    • Donate clothes – particularly personal hygiene items and socks – to local shelters. You can share your donation on social media and volunteer to bring along items that others wish to donate, too.

      Research your local candidates and take the time to understand their proposals on affordable housing and homelessness. Support those who echo your values, and if none do, become an advocate and write to your local Minister about increasing funding to homelessness services.

Of course, there is always an opportunity to help Vinnies, and they welcome you to get involved – Volunteer Work and Opportunities at Vinnies

Adrienne from RD Consulting working on a laptop

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